They told us how it was so big in the ’70s and is just now picking back up, and I was very interested.”

Fortunately for all of us, University of Tennessee student Jackie Young isn’t talking about disco. Also fortunately for all of us, she’s talking about something that will provide the United States with 80 years’ worth of clean, safe and affordable energy: nuclear power. And why is Jackie Young so interested?

Because a nuclear renaissance will require a broad expansion of nuclear engineers and highly-skilled trade positions such as welders and electricians. Although a new nuclear reactor hasn’t been built since the days of “Funkytown”, industries and universities are already responding to the forthcoming nuclear expansion in the United States.

Private companies are expanding their workforce, enrichment and manufacturing facilities are beginning to expand their capacity size. For instance, the French company Areva will expand its headquarters in Lynchburg, Virginia by 500 jobs, a 25% increase. 900 technical jobs will come to Wilmington, North Carolina that pay on average $50,000 times more than the average annual salary in New Hanover County. URS Corporation, a company that provides a wide variety of nuclear services from design and engineering to construction, recently opened a nuclear energy center in South Carolina and plans to hire 400 nuclear experts next few years. These examples are only few of many.

To fill these jobs universities are responding by increasing their nuclear engineering programs. Today’s article in BusinessWeek cited that undergraduate nuclear engineering students nearly quadrupled to 1,900 from 1999 to 2007. Larger universities are expanding their engineering programs and local colleges and universities are teaming up with the nuclear industry to offer scholarships and training partnerships.

More importantly, these industry and university responses are driven by the market, not government handouts. Having not built a commercial nuclear power plant in over three decades, the skilled craft labor and nuclear engineering programs in universities have fittingly decreased. Policymakers feel the need to respond by creating incentive programs for industry and education to initiate a broad nuclear expansion in the U.S. Yet, politicians should realize what these incentive programs really are: corporate handouts that will lead to the same dependency on government that ultimately led to the nuclear industry’s demise in the 1970s.

The government’s role should be limited to providing strict regulatory oversight, transitioning to a privatized system of managing nuclear waste and fast-tracking the first handful of reactors without sacrificing safety or security.

There were a few things that should’ve been left in the seventies, most notably anything fashion-related. Nuclear energy is not one of them – it’s about time we experience its rebirth.